The Dead South (from the album Sugar & Joy available on Six Shooter Records)
Our current musical landscape proves that the only constant is change as hybrids become the future, the purity of any style becoming an insurmountable wall. The Dead South defy the impassable purists that stand at the gates of Bluegrass tradition on their recent release, Sugar & Joy. The Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan is home to the four-piece, the band plugging in to the inherent reckless ways of the wild western states, putting their opinions and playing side by side into finger-pointing of “Blue Trash” from Sugar & Joy. Salvation and a mode of transportation are addressed in “Heaven in a Wheelbarrow” while Sugar & Joy offers “Diamond Ring” with an edge in the melody to match the desperation in the storyline as The Dead South stage “Snake Man, Part 1” on gentle acoustics and leave a mark with the rhythmic slash of “Snake Man, Part 2”.
Gold Rush-era gambler garb is the clothing of choice for The Dead South, Sugar & Joy album number three for the string-driven four-piece, continuing the momentum put in place by the runaway YouTube hit, “In Hell You’ll Be in Good Company” from their debut. The Dead South shuffle styles with their brand of Bluegrass, cultivating a sound that matches all aspects of the band. Tales of the western lands roll across Sugar & Joy with “Broken Cowboy” as The Dead South strum up a heady brew to go with “Crawdaddy Served Cold”.
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Sussex (from the album The Ocean Wide available on Lucky Bear Records)
The heart of Sussex cannot be found on a map. The centerpoint for Sussex is in the sound, the fingerpicking style of Rob Lutes and the rhythmic tones of vibraphonist Michael Emenau. The Montreal, Quebec-based duo return with a new musical experience, The Ocean Wide, backing the songs of Sussex with accents from trumpet and flugelhorn (Ivanhoe Jolicoeur) as well as clarinet and saxophone (Bruno Lamarche) alongside the playing of Rob Lutes (guitar, banjo, vocals) and Michael Emenau (vibraphone, pianica, percussion). Filling in the background of the project, Rob Lutes recalled that ‘when Michael and I made Parade Day (2016), we looked at it as a well needed break in our busy (solo) musical schedules. We were just having fun playing together after many years, and we loved the blend of vibes and guitar. But the album did so well that we ended up being picked up by a great agency in Montreal and touring it pretty extensively. We had so much fun tweaking the sound and bringing new tunes to the show and the audience reaction was so off the charts, we felt a momentum to get back into the studio and make a second album. This time, we stepped outside any normal musical boundaries we had had and just tried stuff. A slide guitar/pianica minor blues (“Train #7”). Some bebop horns and vibes over a guitar and banjo-driven folk tune (“The Ocean Wide”)’.
Musically, The Ocean Wide spreads the Roots encompassing soundscape to include its origins in Tin Pan Alley, Dixieland, and Ragtime. Sussex open The Ocean Wide on a Blues shuffle with “Everything I Wanted”, asking “Why Dance Alone” on a soft Country sway with a bounce skipping among the rhythms of “Waiting on You” as they group cruise through “Caught in a Flood” and cool in the effervescent pops of “Bap Mountain Rag”. The Ocean Wide puts a rumble in the groove that carries “Renous Highway” while Sussex re-imagine Steve Goodman’s “Lookin’ for Trouble” with Bluesy moods.
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Bonnie Bishop (from the album The Walk available on Plan BB)
Bonnie Bishop put together a crack team for The Walk. Hot players and slick production, her latest release wrapping her Roots around Americana, R&B rhythms, Gospel, the playing clean and precise throughout The Walk, from beginning to end, each note in place and Bonnie sounding soulful. It is a bold move to open your album with a seven-minute song however Bonnie Bishop makes her own rules, beginning The Walk on a marching beat protest tune with “Love Revolution”. Bonnie greets listeners with a ‘welcome to the love revolution’, playing the realist by claiming ‘we’ve still got a long way to go’ while remaining optimistic, encouraging to ‘march on’. The mood continues seamlessly when it reinforces the sentiment with “Keep on Moving”, where dashes of keyboard notes lead a laid-back groove as subtle background vocals softly sing ‘keep on moving’.
“Every Happiness Under the Sun” opens with funky drums, the celebratory clink of a glass announcing a big toast for the song, Bonnie Bishop offering up thanks for ‘happiness under the sun’, giving props to ‘blue skies’ and ‘big highs’.
Solo gospel piano plays for the first fifty seconds of “Song Don’t Fail Me Now” before being joined first by organ, then by drums, Bonnie Bishop closing with a big tune of hymnal proportions. ‘There’s something about a melody, it brings you back right and it sets you free’, Bonnie exits painting big expressions with the power of a song.
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My Darling Clementine (from the album Country Darkness, Vol. 1 featuring Steve Nieve available on Fretsore Records, Ltd)
English Country music husband and wife duo My Darling Clementine offer an advance listen to a recent project from the pair. The E.P. release, Country Darkness, Vol. 1 features Steve Nieve, keyboardist backing Elvis Costello in both The Attractions and The Imposters. My Darling Clementine, Lou Dalgleish and Michael Weston-King, interpret Elvis Costello cuts written for duets, re-imagining the tracks with their brand of British Dance Hall Country music. Produced by Steve Nieve, the E.P. features Steve as a band member on Elvis Costello co-writes for Country Darkness, Vol. 1 including cuts written with Paul McCartney (“That Day is Done”) and Loretta Lynn (“I Felt the Chill Before Winter Came”). Opening the E.P. with “Heart Shaped Bruise” on the marching cadence of Steve Nieve’s piano, My Darling Clementine color between the lines of Country Darkness, Vol. 1 with sepia-toned shadows.
My Darling Clementine and the Country songs of Elvis Costello are a match made in honky tonk heaven. Neon gods are smiling when the jukebox watches Lou nail musical notes to the back wall, duetting with Michael for “Stranger in My House”. Originally written as a duet for George Jones, Elvis Costello performed the song with George as part of Jones’ My Very Special Guests release. The track returned as a solo release from Elvis recorded on a John Peel session in 1978, and as a free 7” single included with an early printing of the second Elvis Costello release, and the debut album from Elvis Costello & The Attractions (in the US), This Year’s Model (1978).
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Mark Oblinger (from the album High Water Line available as a self-release)
Marrying acoustics with studio polish gives the songs of Mark Oblinger a Pop sensibility that honors its natural Roots on High Water Line, his latest release. Dabbing Caribbean Jazz on the melody casts his heart over an island breeze for “I Say Love” as Mark Oblinger give wings to “Little Bird” with a blast of the Blues, tripping on African beats to become “Living Imitation” and shuffling on horn and harmony fueled sunshine for the lessons of “Pressure Makes Diamonds”. Mark Oblinger style-shifts on High Water Line, guiding each song a confident vocal delivery, the words tenderly offering a last chance in “Hold Me Tonight” as he tames a gnarly swamp groove cruising “Judgment Road”.
Moving to Colorado in 1979, Mark Oblinger chose the template of singer/songwriter material as a canvas for his own music. The 1970’s in-roads for the genre in the releases of Hall & Oates, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and other peers can be heard in the contemporary take on the style presented on High Water Line, as well as the sonic echoes from Mark Oblinger’s lead vocalist role in Pure Prairie League and Firefall. The title track begins the song cycle on High Water Line, the melody rising slowly, layering instruments with piano rambles, wandering guitar lines, jazz percussion, and the repetitive rhythm of banjo notes. The storyline speaks of whispers when Mark Oblinger cries out for “Julia” while he uses horns to form the marching rhythms of “Poet in the Corner” and turns diary pages in his heart for “Love Is” as High Water Line introduces its in-house medicine man pedaling good times with the mantra “Let It Roll”.
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Tim Carroll (from the album All You Need is More available on 594509 Records)
The latest release from Tim Carroll, All You Need Is More, finds the Nashville, Tennessee-based songwriter keeping the backing sound for his songs dirty and raw. Tim Carroll is no stranger to loose and gritty Rock’n’Roll, bouncing around the Indie DIY-scene since Punk Rock as a genre was in diapers. The Indiana native, with a resume that includes guitar duties in (the worth investigating) Gizmo’s and Blue Chieftains, still keeps himself busy with projects. All You Need Is More delivers a heady dose of angst and Garage Rock that despite the title of needing more, gets to the sweet spot of the song with a lot less, pumping out gritty Blues, waves of distortion, and a persistent chug all from the comfort of a Punk Power trio.
The title track is pulled from the punky Blues playbook and sets the Garage Rock pace for All You Need Is More. “Some Blues of My Own,” with its distorted vocals, is loaded with big riffs and “Since You Put It Like That” spits verses like an old-school Scat singer wedged into a tight space with little room between the big guitar hook. The lyrically funny “Expensive to Be Poor” is slow and heavy, a solemn precursor to the hopeful tale of someone claiming ‘I’m wearing out my shoes, I’ve got nothing to lose’ in “Getting There”. Tim Carroll closes the album off big, “That’s Another Song” beginning quickly and ending just as quick, a two-minute blast of textbook Rock’n’Roll. All You Need Is More with its AC/DC riffs, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion distortion, and echoes of The Oblivians-style garage sound, Tim Carroll creates a template, and a high bar, for Rock’n’Roll.
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The Magpie Salute (from the album High Water II available on Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Kicking open the doors to High Water II, The Magpie Salute stomp into the album with “Sooner or Later”, the needles buried deep into the red as the band rock on the hard side before drifting into the psychedelics with guitar riffs and harmonies. Rhythmic currents that pound and pulse are the beats the drive High Water II, The Magpie Salute taming the grooves and moods of each track, keeping Rock’n’Roll as their mantra. Slinky Funk sidles across the hard-hammering of “Doesn’t Really Matter”, the pound of the beat taking a breath in the bridge to languish in a Blue Dream as Southern Rock bites and snaps at the groove of “Leave It All Behind” while a kaleidoscopic musical cacophony smashes like waves on the beach of “Life is a Landslide”.
Formed in 2016 by Rich Robinson (The Black Crowes), The Magpie Salute was filled out by former members of Rich Robinson Band (Matt Slocum-keyboards, Joe Magistro-drums) as well as Black Crowes alumni Marc Ford (guitar) and Sven Pipien (bass). Gospel salvations rock in the shouts of “In Here” as The Magpie Salute blow the winds of “Mother Storm” with the force of guitar chords, laying down a Rock’n’Soul beat to request “Gimme Something” and looking into “The Mirror” backed by a Vintage Southern Rock groove as High Water II welcomes Alison Kraus to guest on “Lost Boy”.
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David Newbould (from the album Sin & Redemption on Rock Ridge Music)
On Sin & Redemption, David Newbould balances good times and bad days, walking the wire between the two sides in his stories as an observer, witnessing the characters and their decisions with no judgments. Sin & Redemption faces its demons in “Smiling in the Rain”, David Newbould celebrating hard-worn successes with help on electric guitar from musical friend Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites, The Yayhoos, Homemade Sin). The tales of Sin & Redemption run parallel to life, the storylines portraying both sides of the looking glass, David Newbould seeing the choices as ‘you face the question of ‘do I make the right decision here, or the wrong decision? And if I do make the wrong decision, I’ll still have to find a way to make things work’. If a character in a song takes the ‘wrong’ way, there’s still a chance they’ll come back. You’re always looking at a point of no return, but you have to stay positive. That’s the only way you’re going to make it to the end’.
A Rock’n’Roll beat courses like blood, flowing and fueling “Sensitive Heart”, the opening cut on Sin & Redemption. Country Rock jangle strums the chords for a father’s pride in “Sweet Virginia Morn” as “L.A. Dreams” find a burial spot in the San Fernando Valley heat while David Newbould drives “Long Road to Barstow” on open desert sonics and digs deep into swamp root grooves for “Diamonds in the Dark”. A revolving rhythm circles the song as David Newbould shares love with “Oh Katy (Just Getting’ By”), opening his heart to read its contents with “Love You Too Much” (Henry’s Song)” while Sin & Redemption rides a rambunctious tale of family in the title track.
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Vetiver (from the album Up on High available on Mama Bird Recording Co) (by Bryant Liggett)
Up on High may as well be a guided tour through the rich past of the Folk Rock genre. The latest from release from Vetiver, Up on High, watches frontman Andy Cabic trot through a neighborhood ripe with the acoustic yearnings of young Pink Floyd while their dreams play a soundtrack of 1970’s Country Rock from the neighbors of Laurel Canyon all while digging into the 1980’s across the US from LA’s The Paisley Underground to the indie vibe of Athens, Georgia’s R.E.M. “The Living End” and “To Who Knows Where” kick Up on High off on a beautiful hush with “Swaying” and “All We Could Want” picking up the pace. A big lyrical hook announces ‘hold tight, we’re already there’ on the subtle keyboard Funk of “Hold Tight” while “Wanted Never Asked” is loaded with a 1980’s guitar jangle. “A Door Shuts Quick” sings a quietly melodic lullaby, a quiet song of lament, saying goodbye with Vetiver singing ‘forever’s just a day away’ while mentioning ‘regrets, last requests’.
The Up on High title track unfolds in a psychedelic Folk backdrop when six-strings strum while another guitar picks out a quiet melody and pedal steel offers ambience with its atmospheric sounds below Cabic’s dreamy vocal. “Lost (In Your Eyes)” closes Up on High with a picturesque love song that dreams of diners and cheap hotels with a loved one. Vetiver live comfortably in the Indie Ambient-Folk community, Up on High quiet like the Wilco ballads of the last dozen years with hints of the desert noir of Calexico, its lyrical and melodic laziness its strength. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Sarah Lee Langford (from the album Two Hearted Rounder available Cornelius Chapel Records (by Bryant Liggett)
The latest, Two Hearted Rounder, from Sarah Lee Langford matches the worth of any Country record released in the last decade. Perhaps a strong statement but toss Sarah Lee Langford in the same as the (Sturgill) Simpsons and (Chris) Stapleton’s along with the ever-growing number of Indie Rockers repurposing themselves as they freely in and out of Psychedelic Folk and Alt Country neighborhoods to hear her hold her hi-lonesome, lowdown, dirty own. Sarah Lee Langford sets out to prove her boldness from the get-go, calling out a partner and drawing a line in ‘the words that you speak in are such a god-damned riddle, I won’t play second fiddle’ in the mid-tempo opener that owes more to Indie Rock than Honky Tonk.
Proof that Sarah Lee Langford respects tradition can be heard when “Bar Stool” shows itself as a classic two-stepper while “Growing Up” and “Watch Me” give a solid nod to 1970’s-era Country. “What Came First” and “Coattails”, both with a pedal steel that was born to lay under her vocals, come from the Country Rock, AM Gold radio dialed from a time machine. Langford aches in “Sing My Own Love Song,” the dramatic closer the exits with the line ‘if you don’t want to get down with me I’ll be just fine’, more proof that Sarah Lee Langford is standing strong and on her in her own line. Released on the Cornelius Chapel Records label based in Birmingham, Alabama, a city and label on the forefront of pushing out the best of any-genre Indie. Two Hearted Rounder provides crack colleagues when Sarah Lee Langford is backed by label-mates members from Vulture Whale and The Dexateens. The pedal steel floats through Two Hearted Rounder airy and swirling, the guitar punchy and clean, the rhythm section metronome solid and ready to waltz, the Rock’n’Rollers backing Sarah Lee Langford ready for the dance hall. (by Bryant Liggett)
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